B.C. accountants swap legacy for Web apps

Cutting down a swath of internal manual processes allowed the Certified General Accountants Association of British Columbia (CGA BC) to better see the forest from the trees.

The Vancouver-based professional accounting association and regulating body for certified general accountants (CGAs) in B.C recently replaced its suite of outdated in-house applications with a Web-enabled service portal environment. According to Marc Fox, CIO for the professional accounting body, with more than 13,000 students, members and staff, the amount of paper use and manual processes was rising.

According to CGA BC, its members typically apply for professional development courses a few days before the deadline. Before deploying the portal, this meant the association would be inundated with more than 4,000 faxes, e-mail, and post mail enrolment forms within a space of a few days.

This had a big impact on CGA BC’s relatively small staff of 60 employees, Fox said, which would have to manually enter this data. It invariably led to a number of illegible or incomplete forms.

Experts note that standards-based, Web-enabled applications can not only cut manual processes and reduce paper-based costs, but can push self-services to users, reducing the load on the enterprise side.

The portal, dubbed CGADirect, provides online registration, course information, and additional services. In terms of choosing the vendor, it was a matter of weighing the legacy and integration risks, Fox said. The portal uses Oracle Corp. technology, specifically Oracle Application Server, Database and the JDeveloper Java development tool.

Rob Cheng, product marketing director of Oracle’s application server and tools, noted that JDeveloper is particularly useful for organizations with limited experience in Java development. For the portal, the database security is integrated within the Application Server, Cheng said.

“This is the way to provide, out-of-the-box, some runtime server side libraries to implement best J2EE practices so that newer developers can get up to speed faster,” Cheng said.

This new, Windows-based package replaces the older database software running on Unix hardware, Fox said. “We had quite an aging legacy environment,” he said. Not only was this technology different to integrate, it could not be Web-enabled as well. “Because of the fact that we were very technology independent…we saw an opportunity to take advantage of the Internet and develop a complete new suite of applications that were 100 per cent Web-enabled from the get-go.”

CGADirect allows its members to enter the data themselves, Fox said. The portal also allows students to quickly check up on course information updates. Internally, this reduces the bulk of manual processes, and better ensures the data entered is validated and that students select the correct courses needed for professional certification, Fox added.

The CGADirect portal took two years to develop and went live last year.

Fox noted the CGA BC decided on Oracle because it had the flexibility the organization needed in case it wanted to shift to Linux down the road.

Ironically, choosing Oracle gives CGA BC the flexibility to move off that particular environment in the future, should the organization choose to do so. CGA BC could replace Oracle database software and still retain the other Oracle components, Fox said.

“From my 10,000 foot view,” Fox said, “it allows us to be productive, leverage the technology, and (it) works.”

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